5 EUROPEAN COUNTRIES YOU MUST VISIT

With an economy that is falling face first rather quickly is Europe (an exception being the powerful economy of Germany), there is still some charm about Europe that brings millions of tourists to this beautiful congregation of nations. Every tourist who visits a European country can’t seem to get enough of the beauty – natural and man-made. Europe has some breathtaking landscapes as if god was painting his best work and sculpting beautiful buildings to leave you awed. Here, I will list 5 European countries in ascending order that you must visit. If need be – beg, borrow or steal in case you need a Shenzhen visa (hint: Indians).

5. ITALY

Italy is one of the founder members of the European Union. The country has a rich heritage, with Wikipedia claiming Italy to be the center of the ‘western culture’ in the 17th century. If you love history and culture, this is your Mecca. You’ll find all the information and artifacts on the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church here.

From Left to Right: Colosseum in Rome, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Florence Historic Center 
From the capital Rome, to the islands of Sicily; Italy is an extremely beautiful tourist destination which is famous for the Colosseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower in Pisa. But here are some other reasons why it’s actually worth visiting Italy –
Beaches in Sicily

Heritage – Till date, Italy has the maximum number of UNESCO’s world heritage sites – 47 to be precise. Florence historic center, leaning tower of Pisa, Colosseum in Rome, Villas of Tivoli and San Salvatore Church in Umbria are just a few of the world heritage sites in Italy.

Islands – Italy has a lot of Islands, but an absolute must visit is the island of Sicily. It has dry mountains which run parallel to the beaches, making it an absolutely breathtaking sight.

THE ITALIAN FOOD

I guess nobody would be unaware of what the Italian cuisine has given to the world. From Pizzas to Pastas, and Tiramisu for dessert, Italian food is every foodie’s delight. The food is not spicy, but rich in flavors. Italy also has some of the best wines that you will ever taste.

THE LIFESTYLE AND ECONOMY

Over the recent years, Italy has become quite an expensive country. As tourists, you need to pay taxes for spending a night in Italy. The tax can range from 5 Euros/night in Rome to approximately 2 Euros/night in Bologna. Italians can tend to be a bit weird. As a tourist, they will probably try to rip you off by selling something for a higher price; and needless to say, Italy has been notorious for stealing and robberies.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Spring and summer (March to June or even July)

4. PORTUGAL

A beach in Algarve. Devoid of any palm trees and white sand.
Portugal is probably the least known European country that is an absolute must visit. It joined the European Union in 1986. For the football fanatics and Christiano Ronaldo lovers, pack your bags and visit Portugal.

For the tourists, Portugal has a gorgeous coast line. The beaches are picturesque and offer something completely different. They are not your regular beaches with palm trees and white sand. You’ll find brown sand, clean beaches and blue waters. Though these are also characteristics of a beach, there is a completely different vibe to the beaches in Portugal.

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal is the most happening place of the country. Places to visit in Lisbon include the beaches (Costa da Caparica – Surfers delight), Chiado for the shoppers, Chinese Pavilion (bar) for the party animals and Fado Museum for the music lovers.

Bacalhau - Popular Portuguese dish
THE PORTUGUESE FOOD

By the Portuguese food, I mean the cuisine that is specific to Portugal and not Portuguese around the world; however, it is similar.

Sea food is the most essential ingredient of the Portuguese cuisine, with Bacalhau (cod fish) being commonly found in all parts of the country.  The food is not spicy and generally quite healthy.

THE LIFESTYLE AND EXPENSES

Like most of the European countries, lifestyle in Portugal is quite relaxed. Sintra a town in Lisbon, and other cities of Portugal like Algarve and Porto (Oporto in English) have quite relaxed lifestyles. As compared to rest of the European countries, Portugal is quite cheap and a tasty meal at a decent restaurant in Lisbon can cost somewhere about 5–6 Euros, and 4–5 Euros in other cities. Evidently, Lisbon is the busiest and most expensive city of Portugal.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Spring and summer (March to October).

3. SPAIN

Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations. It has a bit of everything, to be honest. A bit of every culture, a bit of different people from all around the world and a bit (though a really small percentage) of food from all over the world. The 2 cities that come to mind when someone says Spain are Barcelona, and the capital – Madrid. The festival associated to the region is the hugely popular La Tomatina festival (even though it’s not very popular in Spain itself).
Antoni Gaudi

But this article is something beyond Madrid and the Tomatina festival. One must visit Barcelona for sure. It is a true cosmopolitan city with people from all walks of life and different parts of the world. It is an architecturally rich city, thanks to Antoni Gaudi, whose creative genius can be seen in most of the buildings with intricate details. He is also referred to as the architect who modernized the Spanish architecture of buildings.

The real beauty of Spain lies in the regions that are lesser explored. The land locked city of Seville in mainland Spain is gorgeous with its spectacular historical buildings. Granada is another city that compliments Seville in terms of buildings and historical value. It has a lot of Arabic influence, like the palace and fortress of Alhambra in Granada. These cities are paradise for nature and history lovers.

For the people who like a more relaxed holiday, next to the beach (like me), the North-western region of Spain, also known as the Galician region is a must visit. It is another natural part of Spain but includes the beauty of the majestic waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. This region has the maximum number of Blue flag beaches (which is a certification given to a beach that meets stringent norms set by the Federation of Environmental Education. You can read more over here). Steep cliffs in the backdrops of the beaches in the Galician region, combined with the winds can make for a wild sea but the lashing waves create a rather calming and relaxed atmosphere. However, sometimes the waves can be dangerous; so much so that the north western coast of Galicia, which is a vast stretch, has come to be known as the coast of death.

Spanish Islands – For the party lovers, Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca and Ibiza, are the places where all the parties happen. This island has some mainstream overexploited touristic beaches.

Left: Mallorca | Right: Ibiza

The Canary Islands, which are close to the Western Sahara in Africa are more natural and boast of some really beautiful beaches (2nd best beaches which keep switching ranks with the beaches in the Galician region, according to the blue flags).

THE SPANISH FOOD

Like Italian food, Spanish food needs no introduction. It has soft and subtle flavors, is not spicy and is generally healthy. Spanish people love seafood; and meat, pork and beef are really popular. Southern region of Spain is quite famous for fried fish. Spanish delicacies that one must try while visiting the beautiful country is Paella, a really healthy dish made from seafood and rice, and Tortillas, which aren’t really healthy but extremely delicious.

THE LIFESTYLE AND EXPENSES

Alhambra in Granada
The 2 most famous cities – Barcelona and Madrid are quite expensive. You could be spending about 25 Euros for a basic hotel (2 star), and 100 Euros and more for luxury. Food at a basic restaurant could empty your pocket by 10-15 Euros; whereas some good, 4–5 star restaurants could cost you approximately 70 Euros/dish. The Central Northern region (Basque country) of Spain is also really expensive. However, the southern region of Mainland Spain is cheaper in comparison to the rest of the country. Cities like, Seville, Granada and the region around it is quite cheap.

Transportation in Spain is slow and expensive. A high speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, which takes 2.5 hours, can cost more than 100 Euros. Thus, if you’re hopping from one city to another, a plane can be your best bet as Spain currently has 50–55 airports and a one way ticket in the local airlines can be as low as 20 Euros.

Spanish lifestyle is extremely relaxed with a take-it-easy attitude. Spaniards tend to worry less and enjoy life to the fullest.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Summers (May to September).

2. CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Republic was accepted as a part of the European Union in 2004, but continues to use its own currency - the Czech Koruna. You might be wondering why Czech Republic is ranked as the number 2 country to visit in Europe. For a simple reason – despite being a really small country with a relatively backward economy as compared to the other countries in Europe, it is unbelievably good. You have to visit the country to realize its true worth.

Prague at night
Prague is the capital city of Czech Republic. It can be precisely described in 3 words – crazy, chaos and fun. It’s a really beautiful city with a fascinating history and spectacular buildings. However, the country lacks natural beauty. It’s a country comprising of the young and energetic crowd. Parties in Prague can be fun with a lot of nightclubs and other activities. Another city worth mentioning is Brno, which is like the younger brother of Prague. Here, nights can get equally crazy and boast of a lot of fun activities. Czech Republic is a country with beautiful girls and youth that is always ready to have fun. I believe even girls have a lot to look out for while visiting this country. It is truly a party lover’s paradise and I cannot stress on this enough.

Brno
THE CZECH FOOD

Czech cuisine is heavily influenced by it neighboring countries. The country is into heavy consumption of meat and its by products. The traditional meat dish includes pork, as it has relatively shorter production time as compared to beef.

Other popular meat delicacies include rabbit, goose, duck, turkey and hen. However, meat like mutton and lamb are not very common.

THE LIFESTYLE AND EXPENSES

Like other European countries, lifestyle at Czech Republic is quite relaxed, and it is nice place to live for at least a few months, if not more. Czech Republic is a Central European country and relatively poor. On the plus side, it is quite cheap. A big dish of meat that serves at least 2 people is for 6–7 Euros in a decent restaurant; and beer being cheaper than water – a liter of beer can cost somewhere about .75–1 Euro.
Something that you might not like about Czech Republic is the fact that it is land locked, lacks water bodies, and there is nothing much to do in terms of admiring natural beauty.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Summer (May to August, maybe even September max). Winters are cold, snowy and foggy.

1. SWITZERLAND

Yes, Switzerland is the number 1 European country to visit. No surprise there, right? Well, “what can I do, sometimes” (famous quote by Fatih Terim). This country has been the unbeaten paradise of Europe for so many years now. You cannot help but notice the beautiful snow capped Swiss Alps, the serene winding roads, the fresh clean air and the quality of lifestyle.

Needless to say, Switzerland’s nature has a lot to offer. Bern, capital of Switzerland, is the 5th most populous city of Switzerland. It has the Historical Museum which features furniture and other artifacts that describe how people have lived in Switzerland for the past 2 centuries. You can visit Gurten Park to get a spectacular view of the Alps and Bern.

The Swiss Alps in summers
Zurich, another popular city of Switzerland consists of a German speaking population and is the largest city of Switzerland. The old town of Zurich looks wonderful with all the cafes, restaurants and shops.

THINGS TO DO IN SWITZERLAND

Fondue
A must visit to the Alps for skiing, trying the posh food of Switzerland which includes Cheese, Chocolates, Wines, Fondue, beef and pork for meat.

THE SWISS FOOD

The Swiss cuisine bears heavy influence from the German, Italian and French cuisines. Though it has quite a few things of its own, like cheese dipped fondue, chocolates, wines, and so forth, you may even find fast food items like fish and chips, fries, burgers, etc.

As with all European food, it is not very spicy. In fact, it is rather bland and on the sweeter side.

THE LIFESTYLE AND ECONOMY

Switzerland is not a part of the European Union and personally, might never want to be. It has its own currency, the Swiss Franc, which is quite strong (1CHF = $1.10 = `58.57). Due to this rate of currency exchange, it also makes Switzerland quite an expensive country to visit, but given its beauty, the visit will be worth it. As clich├ęd as it may sound, they have the Swiss bank which allows foreign investments, and is helping the country to keep its economy steady.

Chocolate shop in Zurich
Switzerland has long been a tax haven for the foreigners; in simple words, as a part of their promotion for tourism and foreign investments, they waived off the taxes (partially or completely) for tourists and investors.

Keeping natural beauty aside, Switzerland doesn’t have much to boast about its lifestyle. There is not much happening on the ‘party’ front and people restrict themselves to their work and doing their own thing. As is the case with Czech Republic, Switzerland is also a land locked country, but does have some beautiful lakes. However, that doesn’t make up for the beauty of the sea or the ocean.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Winter (if you love snow), even if you don’t its really beautiful in the summers as well (July).

This is my take on the top 5 European countries that you must visit. Do leave a comment to let me know your suggestions for any other European country that you think is worth visiting. You can even contact me if you’re making plans to visit these beautiful countries any time soon and wouldn’t mind an Indian’s company.

Have a nice time and a safe journey.

A big thank you to David Seoane for providing some great inputs, without your help, this article would've never been possible.

All images are the properties of their respective owners. Images have been used only for illustrative purposes and I do not claim ownership of the content of the images.

2 comments :

  1. Italy & Spain are on my bucketlist! Thanks for sharing! This post only wants me to go even more!

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    Replies
    1. Let me know if you plan something. Would love to visit these countries!

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